STATESBORO — David Pennington says that if elected, he will be Georgia’s first limited-government, conservative Republican governor.
As mayor of Dalton, Pennington, 61, has cut taxes significantly. He wants to do the same as governor. He will challenge Gov. Nathan Deal in the May 20 Republican primary. Of course Deal’s predecessor, Gov. Sonny Perdue, served eight years in that office as a Republican, but Pennington noted that both Deal and Perdue were Democrats earlier in their careers, and he assailed Deal’s record as a conservative.
“I’ve got a five-way test for Republicans: Do you believe in limited government, less spending, less taxes, less regulations and open and transparent government or do you not, and our current governor and leadership there is (zero) for five,” Pennington said last week during a visit to Statesboro.
Known for its carpet manufacturing, Dalton has a population of about 33,000. Pennington has been mayor for more than six years, but will resign the first week of March to qualify as a candidate of governor. Another Republican, state School Superintendent John Barge, is also campaigning to challenge Deal in the primary.
In Dalton, the city council and Pennington have cut property taxes six times in six years. The total reduction amounts to 28 percent, he said.
Meanwhile, the current state leadership, Pennington alleges, has increased the size and scope of state government and dramatically increased spending. After a $17.4 billion budget approved in 2010, before Deal took office, he has proposed an almost $21 billion budget for fiscal year 2015, Pennington observed.
“At this rate, if he stays eight years, he’ll increase the Georgia budget by 50 percent during that time,” he said.
Among other things, Deal’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 restores some state funding to school systems that imposed unpaid furlough days on teachers after previous cuts. Pennington’s projection of a 50 percent rise assumes similar increases would continue through the next four-year term.
Pennington blames Deal and the legislative leadership for tax increases, including the switch from annual property taxes on motor vehicles to an up-front sales tax. The previous property tax was paid with a tag purchase in the owner’s birthday month, and much of the revenue went to counties.
“The birthday tax, which they take credit for eliminating, that was not a state revenue source,” Pennington said. “Mostly that was a local revenue source, and by doing that and shifting those revenues over to state government, which they’re spending, sooner or later what’s going to happen with the local governments … they’ll be increasing property taxes to make up for it.”
The state, Pennington said, should never have made this change without consulting and working with local officials.
But a cut in the tax was needed, he said, asserting that Georgia has the highest cost of owning and operating a vehicle in the nation. The Statesboro Herald has not sourced or fact-checked this claim.
Pennington wants to cut other taxes.
“We need to cut the income tax immediately from 6 percent to 4 percent, and not by shifting it to a sales tax,” he said. “We need to cut state government by that amount.”
Over time, Pennington added, he thinks the income tax should be cut further, possibly by shifting it to a sales or consumption tax.
Education and health
In regard to education policy, Pennington opposes the Common Core curriculum being promoted by the federal government.
“You can trace the decline of public education in this state and in this country first with the centralization of all the power and authority into state government and now into the federal government,” Pennington said. “We need to decentralize the authority, responsibilities and power more back to local communities.”
Leading Georgia Republicans, including Deal, have declined federal assistance to expand Medicaid in connection with the Affordable Care Act. Pennington suggests the state should find ways to cut Medicaid spending.
“Other states surrounding us have started new programs using more managed care and home services for a lot of elderly people who have traditionally been in Medicaid nursing homes,” Pennington said. “It’s far more efficient to treat them at home if you can.”
Another way to cut Medicaid costs, he said, is by improving Georgia’s economy. He asserts that reduced taxes and regulations would encourage growth in manufacturing, creating jobs with good wages and health insurance.
“Keep in mind, this state is expanding Medicaid, as we speak, with our poor economic policies,” he said. “We added an additional $300 million in spending in Medicaid in the last two years alone.”
The Georgia Open Meetings Act requires that most meetings of city councils, county commissions and school boards be open to the public, but the state Legislature is exempt.
“They need to be under the same open meetings laws that local governments are under because it’s amazing how much better government gets when you let the sunshine in,” Pennington said.
Pennington has a degree in economics from the University of Georgia and owns an independent insurance agency in Dalton. He has not held an elected office other than mayor.
Throughout his tenure, Pennington has donated his part-time mayor’s salary to Dalton State College, where the money has, he said, furnished scholarships for about three dozen students.